RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) -- The pounding beat of my samba school's
theme song rang relentlessly in my head even as the excitement of Rio's wild
Carnival wound down on Tuesday after nights of intense competition in flashy
Most pre-Lenten celebrations crank into high gear on Fat Tuesday but we
have been partying at a feverish pitch since Friday when the first of the samba
schools vibrated through Rio de Janeiro's Sambodromo stadium in one of the
world's most glittering spectacles.
The schools, which are rooted in Rio's teeming shantytowns, fight fiercely
win Brazil's Carnival '99 championship by trying to outdo one another with
outrageous costumes, lavish floats and thousands of madly gyrating dancers
chanting a hopefully infectious samba tune.
In a moment of madness at the height of the country's currency crisis last
month, I decided to work off the tension by joining one of the samba schools
for its Carnival parade.
I found myself dancing like a maniac and singing incomprehensible lyrics
front of thousands of spectators and millions of television viewers around the
world, while outfitted only in a skimpy costume made of a few glitter-covered
leaves and some shiny streamers.
It was terrifying and exhilarating at the same time as I tried desperately
remember the words and keep on the various parts of my costume while
simultaneously trying to jiggle my hips to the pulsating rhythm, just like a
"Smile, smile, smile," our section leader called out as she suddenly pulled
into the front line, dashing my plan to hang out in the middle of the crowd and
avoid possibly embarrassing our school with klutzy steps or mangled lyrics.
It was vicious in the front. I kept getting my face smacked with the costume
wings of my neighbours as they fought for a prominent place in this, their
moment of glory.
The organisers from Vila Isabel, a school located in the northern Rio slum
neighbourhood of the same name, had sternly warned us that this was a
serious competition and each dancer had to shine -- even foreign visitors.
"The judges look at everyone. Everyone. They check if you are singing the
song and dancing in a coordinated way together and also if you are still
enthusiastic at the end of the avenue," my section leader Jane Goulart told me
I had chosen her, and in fact the school, at random. Unlike the natives
become fervent fans of a particular group no matter what its theme, I shopped
around for a school with a costume I liked among the dozens on offer.
I had something lightweight and airy in mind because I had heard that samba
dancing down a half-mile (km) parade route in Rio's steamy weather could be
rather unpleasant if buried under a mountain of feathers while balancing a
Of course, I could have done with a little bit more material than I got,
many people wear little more than glitter during the five-day festival of balls,
street parties and parades.
On Wednesday afternoon we hear the judges' decision. The top five schools
will have to squeeze back into their outfits, line up for hours again outside the
Sambodromo and dance that hour-long stretch under Rio's sultry skies for the
champions' parade on Saturday.
But I am not worried. The newspapers say we mounted our most colourful
and enthusiastic effort ever, but were still outclassed by at least five other
So I will be one of the thousands in the cheering audience and that is
the best place for me, although I now know the words to Vila Isabel's theme
song perfectly and cannot get them out of my head.
Copyright 1999 Reuters.